New Orleans Bishop" I'm Convinced That God Is Going To Purify Us Through This
The New York Times today reports that the whereabouts of half the priests in New Orleans remain unknown.
"No religious institution faced as daunting a challenge as the Archdiocese of New Orleans," says the newspaper. "Most of its parishioners have scattered, and half of its 300 priests are unaccounted for. But Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes of New Orleans, the spiritual leader of 500,000 people in one of the most heavily Roman Catholic regions in the United States, said he was preparing to put together his archdiocese 'in exile.'
"'I never thought the Lord was going to ask me to take this on at 72,' he said after celebrating an emotional Mass here at the Cathedral of St. Joseph, the seat of the Diocese of Baton Rouge.
"Sunday was perhaps the first time since 1725 that Mass has not been said in a parish church in New Orleans, said Archbishop Hughes, adding that a few priests who stayed behind in the stricken city may have offered communion to individual Catholics around them," reports the newspaper. "The task, as Archbishop Hughes described it, is to reorganize the Archdiocese of New Orleans, including an extensive charitable network and 104 parochial schools, in Baton Rouge."
According to The Times, the chaos surrounding Hurricane Katrina "may have already claimed the life of one of his priests, the Rev. Thomas Kinney, who had cancer and died at St. Clare's Nursing Home in Baton Rouge on Saturday night, just after he evacuated from New Orleans. Two priests who stayed to minister to refugees in the Superdome are missing. Archbishop Hughes has not heard from a third priest, who went to the Louis Armstrong airport in New Orleans to tend to elderly, frail and disabled residents who were being airlifted for medical treatment."
The archbishop was quoted as describing a "diaspora" that has emptied half of the parishioners of the eight civil parishes in Louisiana that the archdiocese covers.
Priests have been sent to Atlanta, Dallas and Houston and the Louisiana cities of Alexandria and Lafayette to minister to evacuees from New Orleans.
"Archbishop Hughes himself fled New Orleans, driving alone in a Ford Taurus, on Aug. 28, the day before Hurricane Katrina struck. He said he did so only at the urging of public officials who said he would set an example for residents of New Orleans and would be better able to coordinate the archdiocese's response from a safe location."
Asked by The Times whether he still had hope, the archbishop replied: "Absolutely. Absolutely. That is the root of our faith. The most important thing is to not doubt God's presence and God's saving and transforming grace. I'm convinced that God is going to purify us through this."
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